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“Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Genocide ravages our eastern neighbors. Oppression torments those to our south. At home, rioters crawl in under the shadows of corruption to raze cities. Power-crazed leaders clamor to bathe in the spotlight, spurring world citizens with rallies to “do something” against injustice. Armed with fresh rage, the masses rise to wreak destruction.

Thus humanity declares enmity with itself. War spreads like a cancer. In its wake, monuments erected by our creative souls lie in ruins. The earth reddens, awash in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

From the surface, many declare us a planet of incompatible nations and divergent races. Unique cultural shimmers harden into blade-like divisions. We reject a blend of spices which could enhance nourishment, and instead burn one another’s food.

All people hunger. Regardless of our native continents, we thirst. In our many-faceted ways, we yearn to reflect the Creator’s nature. And we all need togetherness. We are, in fact, more alike than different.

Fundamental sameness resounds in our design. First and foremost, we belong to the human race. All nations rest under the authority of One King. God’s authority isn’t dependent upon acknowledgement.

Christ rebuked division, yet stood against injustice with His Father’s perfect resolution. He responded to poverty, imprisonment, and affliction with loving service. He declared war against evil and forged a path of mercy for people. Without His deliverance, we all remain in the clutches of darkness and death. Our true battle must be as His, against the enemy behind all this destruction and not waged against one another. Jesus’ ministry rejected rioting in favor of healing, provision, and liberating souls. The King of Kings vanquished evil and remains Prince of Peace for humanity.

Let us follow in Christ’s footsteps, viewing our brothers and sisters as precious to our Father. Let us strive to celebrate our divinely sculpted variety while embracing the unity of God’s design. Will you join me in prayers and efforts toward peaceful healing? We cannot conquer the world’s darkness on our own, but each of us can act as a candle to dispense a circle of it with His light.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” – Dr. Seuss

“children running and shouting through the Temple, ‘Hosanna to David’s Son!’ . . . Jesus said, ‘Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?’” (Matthew 21:15-16).

Easter dawned on the horizon as Christ marched through formidable gates to redeem His house of worship. With every step across the courts of women and Gentiles He manifested God’s presence among those furthest removed from the holy place. In strode the One Who would make all things new.

The resident authorities balked at change. The current state of worship served their lifestyle of disdain and exclusion. Sizable gifts impressed them, not whether men offered them from their hearts. The swindling of poor worshipers failed to prick their conscience. Priests and politicians shared the drink of corruption. The Temple rulers shrugged away such apostasies.

But, oh, those children.

Jesus foreknew the Temple purification would meet resistance. Sanctification always does. He took time to weave a whip, readying His physical instrument as He prepared for battle against unseen forces. While we don’t know the inner details of this quiet time, Christ maintained perfect concordance with His Father throughout His life. That He prayed during these moments requires little conjecture.

God’s maelstrom thundered across the Temple as He flipped wooden tables over onto the stone floors. Merchants pawed across the marble tiles to recover spilled coins. Christ’s whip cracked over their heads and spurred them to flee the halls. His voice echoed off the smooth walls, declaring the purpose of His Father’s House. And His task was not yet complete.

Sanctification requires more than cleansing filth away.

Enter those relentless little worshipers. As the children ran through the Temple, the Lord used their praises to help cleanse the Temple by renewing its divine purpose. It wasn’t enough to stop doing wrong. The right type of worship had to fill God’s house again. Worship like a child who loves the Lord.

Scripture defines Christians as “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1Corinthians 6:19). Just as the driving out of money changers represented something larger in need of removal from the place of worship, our lives tend to harbor elements that don’t belong. Our sin nature clings to its corrupt old ways and resists change. Despite human and supernatural opposition, Christ’s sanctification can renew our lives. If we submit to His ongoing work of transformation, He drives out residing powers that don’t belong. Pride, selfishness, all manner of sinful strongholds flee out of the halls with a pathetic squeal.

A purged Temple isn’t fully cleansed yet. After the Lord relieves my soul of a nasty attitude, renewed purpose must complete His work. I need to reorient my spirit and fill the cleansed spaces with the worship He desires. Whether He prescribes certain actions or a discipline of stillness, complete renewal means submitting to renewed purpose. I must worship Him with the relentless praise of a devoted child.

Not childish, but child like. Knowing my utter dependence upon Him, yet comfortable that He carries me. Filled with awe and wonder. Accepting the unexplained. Believing without seeing. Trusting with all my soul. Loving Him with all my heart.

Will you join me in worship today, accepting the royal status as His transformed child?

 Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matthew 19:14-15).

“‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me'” (Matthew 18:3-5).

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And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).

A dust cloud thundering with hooves approaches from the horizon. Screams erupt as the grey shadow roars through the towns just ahead of us. The war razes our land. And we stand in its path.

Helmets glimmer with our Kingdom crest, announcing our identity and preserving our minds. Shoulder to shoulder, our formation aligns reliable breastplates to guard our line against infiltration. We dig our heels into the position set for us. Magnificent swords ring out as soldiers draw and flash them into the sun’s brilliance. Shields high, we hold onto hope as the first legion arrives.

One shield quivers–mine. I feel the oncoming stampede rattling through my boots and into my knees. The beastly snorts fall within earshot, and I imagine the heat of their breath on my neck. There must be something more I can do than watch them pillage the countryside. Something more than waiting in fear like this.

I have a weapon to fend off the evils near enough to grab my throat. I tighten my sweaty grip on the hilt. The Word gleams, ready for hand-to-hand combat. Yet, like any other moment on this battlefront, this is no time to worry. I must engage my long range weapon. My armor-piercing javelin of prayer whooshes through impossible miles of darkness. In the village alley, a howl ends with a whimper as prayer strikes the enemy’s heart.

Ephesians lists all other elements of Roman armor by name, but leaves the obvious last piece of the analogy to assumption. Readers could easily follow the list and draw the final correlation. Soldiers wore one set of protective gear, carried one shield, and brought one sword to the battle. The final element stood out in memory as their exclusive long range weapon. Most soldiers carried at least two javelins. The armor-piercing spearhead broke through enemy formations and set up a victorious momentum before the onset of battle.

Like the ancient warrior, repeated use of long range artillery grants me an advantage. My arsenal carries as many javelins as I choose to throw. The limitations of prayer’s impact lie within my field of awareness. Focus, Tina, and remember to keep hurling those spears. I must identify areas of potential attack and pray for other victims of war.

I also need to resist distractions which hijack my focus. Lifting up  concerns that enter my mind while praying can add to my conversation with God. The risky mental detours occur when I’m not praying and serve to prevent or shorten my intimate moments with the Lord. These can include things like hurry, anxiety, or selfish attitudes. Complacency ranks high among focus-derailers, as do those less obvious forms of idolatry we modern folks fail to recognize.

As Paul warned the early Christians, we share the same need to “be alert.” A self-check habit can help identify distractions curtailing prayer. Once a week, reflect on prayer habits and note any trends. Keep track of attitudes or priorities encroaching upon quiet time with Jesus.

War rages, both in our personal space and beyond us. The world stands in desperate need of armor-piercing prayers. I need yours, you need mine, and the shrill cries of victims roil in the dark clouds across the earth. Let’s not neglect our greatest advantage. We can take up these final weapons together, encouraging one another to remain focused and engaged.

 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel . . . came to me in swift flight” (Daniel 19:21).

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).

“Jesus . . .  rebuked the impure spirit . . . He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’” (Mark 9:25-29).

“The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God'” (Acts 10:4).

“prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:15-16).

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12).

“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4).

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

I hit the snooze. Again. Before I know it, those red digits glare alarming numbers. I have fifteen minutes to get out of the house. After a quick prayer, I hack my frizzy locks into submission. Mascara rebels against the hurry with an eye-gouge. Ten minutes left to spackle my prize-fighter appearance, jump into a pant suit, and choke down some vitamins. As I back out of the garage, a breakfast bar dangles from my teeth. It crumbles into my lap by the first stoplight.

In my hurry, I’m at risk of facing battles ill-equipped. It isn’t the first time. And the neediness isn’t related to the two-hundred calories littering my seat. I left more significant nourishment behind. Without it, stressors and needs will overtake me. Thankfully, there’s backup. I keep a Bible in my car so I’ll never go a day without my sword.

Unlike wearable armor components like belts and breastplates, a sword must be taken up and used. My mind, heart, and soul hunger for a daily meal of living scripture. Whether I memorize or study the verses, their power comes from intimate relationship with the Spirit while I ingest and apply scripture. Satan knows the Bible, but it remains a mere recitation for him. Because I know the Word Himself, scripture becomes my sword of the Spirit and pierces the enemy. The Word of God stands out as a short-range weapon to cut down spiritual opposition.

Jesus modeled successful fencing skills when He wielded Scripture to vanquish temptation (Luke 4:1-13). As the Incarnate Word, Christ could have said anything and made it so. He quoted verses to teach us how to pierce the heart of darkness with His Word. He spoke from scripture at certain times to highlight his example, but at all times He lived out God’s perfect truth.

The power of the Word surpasses human imagination, but John’s gospel offers us a glimpse. “The Word was God . . . Through him all things were made . . . In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5). Christ is the logos, the creative force through which all things came into existence. In God’s perfect symmetry, Christ is also the power through which all things are redeemed and renewed. Jesus spoke to exorcise demons, heal, and exhibit miraculous provision, but that remains the tip of the iceberg. By definition, there is nothing the Word cannot do or undo.

Not something I want to leave behind for the day, let me tell you.

Many herald breakfast as the day’s most important meal, but nothing rivals the significance of nourishing my soul. No discipline proves more vital than making time to take up the Word. I must learn it and make it a part of who I am. Wielding the sword requires putting Christ’s truth into practice. In following Jesus’ example, I must speak the Word at times and live it out at all times.

Come join me on the battle front. Let’s make sure we have left no sword behind.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me” (Isaiah 49:2).

“In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Revelation 1:16).

“Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. . . . Take the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:13,17).

I enjoy a solitary day at the mall, unless I’m searching for one item. Without friends, the fun-potential drains out of hat shopping. A sophisticated cloche or a wide-brimmed style might elevate my image, while a fez or wizard’s hat double us over in giggles. Regardless of sun protection or insulation features, the simple accessory I choose to top my cranium will speak volumes about my identity.

First century helmets offered double benefits to the wearers. With a bronze alloy to withstand crushing blows, armor craftsmen extended the forehead piece to block downward weapon strokes. The headgear extended to cover the neck and cheeks. With such thorough armor, distinguishing one soldier from another could present a challenge. Plumage served tactical and individuation purposes. While the crest added height to intimidate the enemy, it also expressed the soldier’s individuality. The style identified him as a Roman and as an individual.

As soon as we become Christians, the Lord crowns us with salvation. Our spiritual helmet distinguishes us as members of a glorious Kingdom while optimizing our individuality to its full potential. Marching alongside those with equal but unique headgear makes the journey more fun. Unless we take the protective features for granted and tuck that head-topper under one arm for a while.

Whoosh. Incoming doubt arrow. Jab of envy. Then, ooph, comes the axe hammer of fear. Resentment and selfishness poison the wounds. Before you know it, you’ve lost your head.

The helmet offers vital protection to one of the enemy’s favorite targets–our minds. We expose ourselves to unnecessary and serious risk if we fail to guard our thoughts with Christ’s gifts of redemption and abundant grace. Bible study, prayer, and guidance from seasoned soldiers can help us realign our focus. If we take time to meditate on the King suffering an excruciating death penalty in our place, we can no longer imagine a limit to His devotion. Since Jesus would take our place on death row, what do we think He won’t do for us? Mindfulness of our position in Jesus thwarts temptations to doubt, envy, or resent. Selfishness and fear cannot cut through the impenetrable alloy of Christ’s loving sacrifice on our behalf. Salvation secures who and Whose we are.

You have a unique purpose in our Kingdom. Your crest holds a special pattern, and I love how it becomes you. So, hold onto your hat, my friend. Others will need you. Your reminder might keep them from losing their heads.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14-15).

Ever find a pair of kicks you couldn’t live without? If you love to indulge your tootsies, you’re not alone. Americans spend more than twenty billion dollars on footwear each year.  More astounding are worldwide athletic sales surpassing fourteen billion. And that’s just Nike products.

We buy specific shoes to enhance health, express personality, or elevate our stature. Shoes fit themselves into our psyche soon after we’re born. No recent obsession, since childhood tales of glass slippers, elvish cobblers, and ruby slippers resonate across the centuries. It’s no wonder we cherish our soles. Shoes inhabit our youthful dreams and grown-up wishes. We search for those ideal shoes, convinced their magic will take us places.

Instead of aspiring to take men places, ancient Roman military boots were designed to stay put. First century soldiers wore sandal-boots, with little attention to the visible parts of the feet and calves. Leather laced over the top of the foot and strapped around the lower leg. Reinforcements focused on the soles. Several layers protected the warrior from the earth. Cobblers drove hobnails into the outer soles to hold the boots together and offer traction.

Centurions knew the battle priorities didn’t lie in decorating ankles or comforting piddies. Modern combat trainers echo their philosophy. Digging in and holding the battle stance makes all the difference during a fight. A warrior must not be knocked off balance, or worse, to the ground. A downed opponent gives advantage to the enemy.

Scripture advises us to fit our feet with warrior boots. Divine soles ignore appearances, status, and comfort. We won’t acquire these powerful kicks from elvish tales or Famous Footwear. Boots that ready us for spiritual triumph come from the gospel of peace. Christ’s perfect footwear has nails driven through it. Jesus has already won the war, you see.  That’s the greatest story of all time. We don’t have to defeat the enemy all over again. We just have to stand firm on Jesus’ victory. What a relief! No need to go on the offensive and rout the devil. It’s done. And we can rest secure in the peace of Christ’s triumph. We win.

Trade in your footwear wishes. Trade up from glass and rubies. A slipper doesn’t prepare soldiers for war. Strap on the peace of Christ. Secure the laces, ensuring against a slipping heel or twisting ankle. Don’t let the snarls and temptations throw you off balance, no matter how close the circumstances seem to your face. Don’t slip on lies meant to grip us with fear.  No need to let the enemy knock you off that stance of peace. Dig those cleats into your triumphant position. Stand. Firm. And you’ll rock those readiness boots!

 

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .” (Ephesians 6:14)

Aim small, miss small. The tactical advice to aim for the chest cavity resounds across historical millenia like an ancient battle chant. Though a head injury ensures devastating results, an abundance of vital organs dwell in the soldier’s larger target–his core.

Experts in exacting fatal or torturous wounds, centurions knew the importance of guarding the chest and abdomen. Enemies could debilitate the heart’s life-sustaining flow or the liver’s toxin removal. Ancient Roman armor provided substantial protection with a breastplate of up to a thousand metal scales. Unlike full-body suits worn in later periods, this article only covered the torso’s front because a Roman soldier never turned his back on the enemy.

We all face constant attack from a strategic enemy. He aims to debilitate the vital areas of our spirits. An exposed heart leaves us vulnerable to devastation. The center of love, peace, hope, and joy  cannot stop its flow throughout our lives. We must also protect the ongoing confession of our soul to remove toxins from our lives.

“No one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2).

Scripture underscores the importance of covering ourselves with righteousness, while illuminating how we remain devoid of it on our own. No matter how hard we strive for good behavior and perfect attitudes, we’ll never achieve holiness sufficient to protect our core. Jesus offers us what we cannot achieve–a perfect covering of His righteousness fit to protect us against all enemy attacks. We only need to accept this gracious gift and put it on each day.

Christian warriors wear Christ’s righteousness over the front of our spirits. Like the ancient Romans, we are called to stand firm and never turn our backs on the enemy for a moment. Yet, we have an additional level of protection for our backs–an army of breastplates. No Christian should face the daily attacks of the enemy alone. Our King designed us to stand together as a Kingdom of brothers and sisters, bearing one another’s burdens and covering one another’s backs. Scripture resonates across both Old and New Testaments with declarations of strength for those who unite in Him (See Ephesians 4, for one example).

Will you accept Christ’s breastplate and stand at the battlefront with me? Let the enemy find no more gaps between us than he can find in the scales of Jesus’ righteousness. Together with Jesus and one another, we are stronger.

 

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

“We have already charged that all . . . are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one'” (Romans 3:9-10).

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes\” (Nehemiah 4:13-14).

But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12).

 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,  that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

“Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

Trillions of subatomic energy particles streak across space and dive into the atmosphere. Their scintillating wake revitalizes the air, illuminates my window, and massages vital warmth into cell tissues as they pass through my body. I cannot sense this process any more than I can discern which gases comprise my breath-concoction or count the microorganisms between my fingertips and keyboard. Invisible dimensions surround, fill, and impact my life at all times.

The symbiotic and causal effects of unseen physical things upon human life remains a matter of confidence among scientists and common folk alike. No one disputes the wind’s power or a mold spore’s destructive potential. The most plausible explanation for doubts regarding unseen spiritual occurrences is their existence. The evidence of supernatural activity stacks stretches far beyond records held in Tornado Alley.

The spiritual dimension surrounds, permeates, and exceeds the physical realm. Our interaction with unseen forces will affect us before, during, and long after mortal life. The symbiotic relationship between humans and the unseen remains true, whether we accept or deny its existence. Like the wind or an ion, the unseen forces of God and His enemies impact us at all levels. God can comfort a lonely widow or work a miraculous healing that goes viral on YouTube. Demons annoy some folks with mechanical failures while inspiring murder among others. The battle rages within our minutiae and throughout world events at every moment. God wields sovereign authority with ultimate power, but Satan fights on despite a guaranteed defeat. The enemy purports to devour or wound the highest possible number of people, causing grief to the Lord.

Though supernatural beings work outside the limitations of tangibility, our spiritual activities affect the battle’s tide. Ephesians 6:10-18 lists tactical measures which protect us and further the cause of God’s Kingdom. Join me in the coming weeks to explore each of these in greater depth. Let’s stand firm together as we face this new year and the future glory of God’s Kingdom far beyond it.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

–John 10:10

I played soccer worse than any kid in junior high–not an exaggeration. No one passed the ball to me on purpose, but one deflected kick sent it right to my toes. Overwhelmed by the opportunity to do something, I managed a sort of dribble. I grinned at those yelling to me, but the excitement had deafened me. Validation for my first athletic action propelled me forward. The rush of air and pride electrified my pores. I ran halfway down the field before the words got through to me…You’re going the wrong way, you idiot! I was heading toward the opponent’s goal. It seems matter how fast you run, helping the other team score makes you the worst player.

I wish that were the last time I helped an enemy win. With far higher stakes on the line than a P.E. game, I’ve assisted a treacherous opponent to score against us. I have helped my foe swing a grave battle in his favor. Not just once, but on a regular basis. I sprint dozens of yards in the wrong direction before recognizing my mistake. Why? Because I choose to believe his lies instead of the truth shouted from the One on my side.

The enemy of my soul tricked me into helping him steal, kill, and destroy in many subtle kicks. He lured me as a joy-thieving accomplice. I’ve slain love to purchase fear, destroyed time intended to serve God, believing these pursuits served my goal. With every toxic belief and insecure step, I diverged from my true goal of Christ’s abundant life in His love.

Time to retrain my mind and stop assisting the opponent. No more steps in the wrong direction. Let me counter each negative thought with a double portion of love and praise before I act upon it. I will fight the enemy’s strategies  sabotage my teammates or me.

Our team has the ball. What will you do to help keep it moving toward the right goal?

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